Over the past week, our online petition has been steadily ticking away as more people stuck in traffic have got out their tablets and smartphones and supported it. Thank you for your support.
We’ve also received several messages of support and inquiries. One inquiry – from a member of a residents’ association – got us thinking. As we’ve received a flurry of subscriptions in the past fortnight, now would be a good time to provide a “Weekend Big Read” as you relax in the shade.
WHO IS THE BIGGEST LOSER?
The trial closure of Elizabeth Street to State Highway 1, Hill Street, and Kowhai Park traffic divided the town in many ways. The official reason was to see whether it would improve safety and traffic flow. Considering the NZTA’s stance is to not look at fixing the overall problem with the intersection until after the Tollway is built, it was perceived by many as a cynical attempt to fudge public opinion in the meantime.
The trial and an overall fix are two separate issues. What the trial did raise was awareness that an overall solution was necessary that benefited everyone, not just a temporary trial that benefited some at the cost of others.
We wondered who would be the biggest loser if nothing is done to fix Hill Street. The Hill Street intersection is a temperamental eight-limbed beast where each limb is affected in different ways. Here is a consolidated assessment. Scroll down to see how it affects you.
The most immediately affected neighbourhood by the Hill Street intersection are 16 dwellings on Millstream Place. With a 100 percent dwelling occupancy and a population of 41 according to the 2013 Census, they drive 31 vehicles and generate approximately 200 traffic movements a day – 90 percent turning left out of the cul-de-sac.
While there are pedestrian connections with Elizabeth Street, there are no proper pedestrian crossings on Elizabeth Street or Sandspit Road. Road vehicle access is complicated by the proximity of the confluence of Sandspit and Matakana Roads into two lanes and the steady volume of traffic. While there are rarely queues out or into Millstream Place, waiting times are often at the mercy of the courtesy of Sandspit Road traffic, including traffic that often blocks entry into Millstream Place. When one southbound vehicle on Sandspit Road blocks entry for a vehicle turning right into Millstream Place, a queue can quickly result in gridlock beyond Elizabeth Street and the traffic lights.
Overall, while the least amount of traffic is affected of those groups covered and the journey time factor is also the least of those groups affected, the position of its intersection can cause considerable gridlock.
Users of the park fall into three categories:
1. Users of the public toilets, including the motorhome dumping station; 2. Park-and-ride commuters; and 3. Recreational users of the park.
Pedestrian access from along Matakana Road is via an unsealed path. There is no “formal” pedestrian crossing across Sandspit Road. Road vehicle access to the carpark is the most difficult for Elizabeth Street as motorists need to give way to four directions. As the exit is controlled by a stop sign, traffic has to give way to all other traffic. Turning right onto Sandspit Road or Elizabeth Street is the riskiest of all turning combinations at the intersection.
Hill Street is one of three roads (Hudson and Falls Roads being the others) connecting an area of approximately 500 dwellings, a school, a kindergarten, and a dozen industrial sites to Warkworth’s road network. Latest traffic counts on Hill Street near the traffic lights show a daily average traffic of 3344, AM peak hour volume of 601, and PM peaks of 320 (3-4pm) and 430 (5-6pm).
Currently, green traffic light phases are 8-10 seconds approximately 90-100 seconds apart. Queues at school start and end times often stretch beyond the school entrances. Right-turning traffic into Hill Street is restricted to allow for a longer green light phase for State Highway 1 northbound through and right-turning traffic.
While the Mansel Drive connection with Falls Road offers an alternative route at times of congestion, it is a less direct route towards the town centre. The completion of the Western Collector between the Falls Road/Mansel Drive intersection and State Highway 1/Matakana Link intersection relies on a “Millwater”-style development of at least 1500 dwellings, which could quadruple Hill Street traffic towards the traffic lights. In the meantime, the Auckland Unitary Plan allows for potentially another 500-600 dwellings of “in-fill” which could double current traffic volume.
While the area has alternative routes, the NZTA has used this as an excuse to restrict turning options for Hill Street at the intersection. This area is the most vulnerable to restrictions as congestion gets worse.
This cluster of approximately 250 dwellings (with another 30 being built) intersects with Matakana Road at the northern urban perimeter of Warkworth. The completed development of six ring roads and cul-de-sacs won’t have any other connecting roads and will rely on the one intersection with Matakana Road for access.
A high proportion of elderly motorists contend with high volumes of Matakana Road traffic exceeding the 50km/h limit close to a 80km/h zone with poor sight distances in all directions. Pedestrian access to town is by way of an informal pedestrian crossing between the Elizabeth Street/Kowhai Park intersection with Sandspit Road and the Millstream Place/Matakana Road/Sandspit Road confluence.
While Auckland Transport haven’t gathered any traffic data on this road, we estimate that daily traffic volumes are between 1500-1700. While queues rarely form out of Melwood, queues from the Hill Street intersection reach the Melwood intersection at workday AM, Sunday PM, and Holiday End peaks. These queues will be more frequent and longer due to traffic growth from development of the 1800-2200 dwelling Northern Growth Cell bordering this subdivision and other developments beyond.
Most traffic out of Melwood Drive turns right and motorists often rely on the courtesy of Matakana Road motorists when queues stretch past that intersection. “Courtesy” will be tested as congestion deteriorates.
Elizabeth Street is one of two access roads (Whitaker Road being the other) from State Highway 1 to Warkworth’s Central Business District. The two roads connect with a triangular-shaped CBD, forming a A-shaped road network for the retail centre.
The Elizabeth Street trial was during the busiest retail month of the year. Reports of retail sales being down 20-30 percent on the same period of the previous year were consistent across most retailers in the town centre. Considering the year-on-year growth of the area, it is estimated that half of the town centre’s trade comes from traffic originating from State Highway 1 and Hill Street.
On average, the traffic flow of Elizabeth Street is 9345, whereas Whitaker Road is 10423. Traffic on Whitaker Road increased markedly during the trial, exacerbating congestion at intersections along its route.
Warkwork is a regional service centre serving a hinterland stretching as far as Kaipara District to the north and Puhoi to the south. Based on current growth and the Auckland Unitary Plan, the population is expected to grow five-fold. As Mangawhai and other Kaipara centres grow, the town centre will rely less on hinterland trade but tourism and hospitality businesses will be affected by traffic being inconvenienced negotiating the Northern Tollway, Matakana Link, Hudson Road, and the Hill Street intersections to enter the retail district.
The proximity of the Sandspit Road intersections with Elizabeth Street and State Highway 1 is the central design flaw of the road network. It is vital that any long-term solution improves the alignment of Elizabeth Street with the other roads.
Police response times are severely affected by congestion at the intersection.
The Hill Street intersection is the northernmost major intersection of the State Highway 1 route. Average daily traffic volumes drop from 22206 to the south of the intersection to 14034 to the north. Of the 37,000 traffic movements through the intersection, 6000 of the traffic from the north keep to the State Highway 1 through route and 8000 is local and hinterland traffic. Half of that 8000 visits the town centre.
Currently, the traffic light phasing at the Hill Street intersection causes the longest queues for southbound State Highway 1 during seasonal peaks. Green lights lasting 20-30 seconds every 90-100 seconds causes gridlock past the Hudson Road and Goatley Road intersections. The NZTA regularly recommends that motorists expect delays and use alternative routes.
The Northern Tollway “Road of National Significance” is a road of local insignificance/inconvenience. The junction with the current State Highway 1 near the existing weigh station will be congested by the predominance of right-turning traffic towards Warkworth and onto the Tollway, and gridlock back from the Hill Street, Hudson Road, and Matakana Link traffic lights. In addition to the traffic growth from developments north of the Hill Street intersection wanting to use the Tollway, the absence of a Tollway connection south of Warkworth could increase the volumes of traffic heading north through the Hill Street intersection.
There are a lot of unknown factors as relevant data has not been collected, models haven’t been tested, and the absence of proper research has been the basis of fudging assessments of environmental effects to push through the “nationally significant” resource consent application for the Tollway.
Traffic light phasing for State Highway 1 traffic to the south of the intersection has received preference over the past three years. There are roughly two green light phases of 20 seconds every 120 second cycle and a 20 second green light for right-turning traffic. The additional 20 second phase was the result of the removal of the right turn into Hill Street from the north.
Of the eight connections to the Hill Street intersections, this connection has the highest volume and the highest proportion of heavy vehicles. With the increase in developments to the east of the intersection, there has been a spike in construction traffic transporting materials and equipment from the Woodcocks heavy commercial/industrial area turning into Sandspit Road.
The drop in through traffic as a result of the Tollway would have already been substituted by the continued developments of the Northern Growth Cell and major developments in the Mahurangi and Matakana/Omaha areas – as well as traffic from the 5000+ dwelling Southern Growth Cell heading north to access the Tollway.
Saint John Ambulance response times are the most affected by Hill Street congestion and ambulances frequently drive on the footpath or on the lane of opposing traffic to navigate the intersection.
The most seasonal of all the connecting roads at the Hill Street intersection, the growth in construction traffic and higher dwelling occupancy rates has increased traffic volumes markedly along this arterial servicing Matakana, Point Wells, Omaha, Tawharanui, and settlements towards Leigh. The sealing programs of Matakana Valley, Pakiri, and the Matakana Link will provide alternative routes but the majority of local traffic will rely on the Matakana Road section between Clayden Road (where the Matakana Link intersection will be) and the Hill Street intersection.
The lowering of the speed limit from 100km/h to 80km/h was intended to improve safety. From a planning policy perspective, however, the lower speed limit has allowed for more intensive ribbon development of lifestyle blocks and roadside retail with clusters of new accessways along its route. The vehicles slowing down and entering those accessways or pulling out and slowing down traffic exacerbates a regularly congested road operating close to capacity. These queues of traffic along Matakana Road eventually ends up at the Hill Street intersection.
In addition, the weekend and holiday spikes in flow to and from Matakana Road stresses the flaws in the layout of the Hill Street intersection. In the absence of objective analysis, the Matakana Link has been fast-tracked at the same time as the 1800-2200 dwelling Northern Growth Cell was incorporated into the Auckland Unitary Plan. While currently queues regularly stretch along Matakana Road back to the Clayden Road, we expect regular gridlock in the Matakana Road/Matakana Link/State Highway 1 triangle because of Hill Street intersection being neglected.
Sandspit Road connects the Mahurangi Peninsula with the regional road network at the Hill Street intersection. Sharps Road is the only alternative route to other arterial roads in the area and no other alternative routes are planned. The peninsula includes the settlements of Sandspit, Snells Beach (3552 population), Algies Bay (687), and a hinterland of rural, lifestyle and coastal properties – combining to have a larger population than Warkworth (3909). The occupation rates of dwellings outside summer vary significantly, ranging from 1100 out of 1500 dwellings in Snells Beach to 300 out of 540 in Algies Bay. In summer, the population of the peninsula swells to almost 8,000.
Snells Beach has transitioned from coastal resort to satellite suburb within the past decade. The Warehouse big block store and schools are the largest employers and at any time over the past decade 20+ dwellings are being built with potential for another 1500-2000 dwellings within the next decade. The rental and sale of baches to tradespeople to supply a workforce for this growth has changed the amenity of the area.
The considerable growth and occupancy rates maintain the most consistent upwards growth in traffic volumes along Sandspit Road. The road is poorly formed and aligned. The increase in heavy vehicle traffic (motorhome, quarry, construction, and water trucks) causes damage that requires regular works. Following the lowering of the speed limit of Sharps Road to 80km/h, ribbon development has further choked the average traveling speed.
Sandspit Road traffic needs to negotiate two give ways and traffic lights within 30 metres before accessing the state highway network. The first give way - the confluence of the Sandspit Road with Matakana Road - has the most regular congestion. While Sandspit Road has higher traffic flows for most the year, its traffic gives way to the more sporadic flows of Matakana Road.
According to NZTA 2026 projections, Sandspit Road will swell to average daily traffic of 15600 while Matakana Road will remain near 11000. Based on actual growth since those projections were calculated, traffic on Sandspit Road is more likely to exceed 20,000 – almost twice the traffic using the Tollway.
The Mahurangi Peninsula won’t benefit from the Matakana Link to access the Tollway. Any traffic will need to turn right at the traffic lights – a 20 second green light phase of a 120 second sequence. Currently, Sandspit Road traffic relies on the courtesy of Matakana Road traffic queued past the confluence. As traffic volumes increase while the Hill Street intersection is untouched, frustration will deteriorate courtesy.
Taking into account the population and nature of the retailers affected, the traffic growth anticipated, and the connectivity with the road network, Snells Beach is the biggest loser from inaction at the Hill Street intersection. Only a major realignment of Sandspit Road and reconfiguration of its connection to the Hill Street intersection will reduce congestion and journey times.
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